There are many phone apps that provide neighborhood-focused local news updates in real time (e.g. “Nextdoor” and “Citizen”).
This can make a person aware of every single burglary, car accident, “suspicious dog,” and other strange happening that may occur in their general vicinity.
While this information can be useful, it often leads to an unrealistically alarming and paranoia-inducing view of daily life.
For example, in a large city, a person is almost always within a mile or two of a robbery or burglary, and these apps will constantly ping the user that crimes are being committed on a non-stop basis in the user’s immediate area.
In order to combat this relentless deluge of negative news, we suggest a modification of the local news app to provide a more “balanced” coverage of what’s actually going on in a neighborhood (Figure 1).
For example, perhaps someone snatched a purse from a cafe, but also at that same time, a kindly neighbor rescued someone’s cat from a tree.
In a “normal” news app, only the purse-snatching would be reported, but here we also report the cat rescue.
If we want to design this app in an extra-cynical fashion, it could just completely fabricate all of the positive situations. As an example, it could randomly populate neighborhoods with fictitious feel-good news like “jogger is complimented on their nice hat” or “dog-walker is high-fived by impressed neighbor.” The fabrications will be harder to detect, since there is no local government department dedicated to collecting statistics on cool and uplifting local happenings. Note: this scenario may negatively affect the reputation of the app if the truth is revealed.
PROS: May reduce the stress of urban living and counteract some of the negative features of constant news updates.
CONS: Crucial “negative” news (e.g. “Huge fire approaching! Evacuate!”) could be drowned out by nonsense like “Extra-fluffy cat spotted at corner of Main and 2nd!”